State Drops Charges in First McAllister Trial | Off Message

State Drops Charges in First McAllister Trial

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Sen. Norm McAllister outside the Franklin County Criminal Court Thursday morning after the state dropped two sexual assault charges. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Norm McAllister outside the Franklin County Criminal Court Thursday morning after the state dropped two sexual assault charges.
Updated at 1 p.m.

State prosecutors abruptly dismissed sexual assault charges Thursday morning against Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin), a day after his accuser struggled on the stand with discrepancies in her story.

“The state is in a position to have to dismiss,” Franklin County Deputy State’s Attorney Diane Wheeler told Vermont Superior Court Judge Robert Mello at about 9:45 a.m.

“Something came to light during [Wednesday] evening that warranted the state to have to dismiss the matter,” Wheeler said outside the courtroom afterward, adding that doing so was her “ethical obligation.”

Her boss, State’s Attorney Jim Hughes, said in an interview that an issue arose in his office after trial testimony on Wednesday, prompting the need to dismiss the case. “I can’t tell you specifics or details of the ethical dilemma, because we still have charges pending against Mr. McAllister.”

McAllister, who was standing in the courtroom with his attorneys, showed no visible reaction. He faces another sexual assault case involving a different accuser.

“Obviously, there were credibility issues,” defense attorney Brooks McArthur said outside the courthouse, declining to allow McAllister to speak to the media. “When the state listened to her testimony … they realized that they were going to have a very difficult time meeting their burden.”

The 12-member jury, which had yet to enter the courtroom for the day, was dismissed.

The 21-year-old accuser, who worked for McAllister on his Franklin County farm and as a legislative assistant in Montpelier, had returned to the courthouse prepared for a second day of testimony, according to her attorney, Karen Shingler.

“My client’s disappointed,” Shingler said. “She’s upset.”

The woman left the courthouse shortly before Wheeler announced the charges were dropped. “She is disappointed,” Wheeler said, “but she understands what the state needed to do — and was distraught at what had to happen, but again, she understood what my obligation was.”

Kris Lukens, director of Voices Against Violence, a victims’ advocacy group in Franklin County, said she was also disappointed to see the charges dismissed, as it sends a chilling message to sex crime victims. “Victims are seeing this and taking this into account. It’s really hard to come forward,” she said.

Lukens, who watched the accuser testify Wednesday, said the discrepancies in her story were characteristic of the difficulty victims have in recounting traumatic events. “Things are all over the place. It’s really due to trauma,” she said. “It doesn’t mean the victims are lying.”

The day’s potential witnesses, who waited outside the courtroom, were dismissed. They included Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) and Rep. Tim Corcoran (D-Bennington), who were McAllister’s Montpelier apartment roommates. Rep. Corey Parent (R-St. Albans) was also there to testify. They are unlikely to be called as witnesses in the remaining case, which does not involve allegations in Montpelier.

In that case, another farmhand, who lived in a trailer McAllister owns, has accused him of forcing sex in return for rent. McArthur said he expects a status conference to be held in that case in about a month.

According to Wheeler, the new information that led to Thursday’s dismissal could affect the next trial, but she said she was planning to move ahead with it.

McArthur said, “I think credibility will be a significant issue in that case as well.”

State police have said in court documents in that case that they have a recording of a phone conversation between the accuser and McAllister.

In that call, McAllister said he knew he was forcing his tenant to perform sex acts that she didn’t want to do, according to a police affidavit. Colleagues in the Senate cited that when he was suspended from the Senate in January.

The case could be heard in court in the fall, McArthur said, which would be after the August 9 primary election. McAllister is running for reelection despite the suspension that prevented him from participating in the 2016 legislative session.

Hughes said he stands by the decision to file the charges that were dismissed, though he acknowledged the accuser struggled to tell her story. “She was not the strongest witness,” he said. “She’s a young lady. She was recounting events that happened four years, three years ago that she had essentially put away as a secret.”

McArthur said McAllister has maintained his innocence all along. “My client, Mr. McAllister, from the first day I met him said, ‘I didn’t do these things.’ He’s never wavered from that,” MacArthur said.

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